International sex trafficking organization busted in Minnesota

Washington County Attorney’s Office charges four group leaders

 

Chinese women were regularly being flown into the United States for the purpose of sex trafficking, commonly regarded as a modern form of slavery.

Upon arrival, the passports of the women, who didn’t speak English, were taken by leaders of an international sex trafficking enterprise. 

The women were tasked with making $800 a day via prostitution. To this end, they were rotated through various hotels, apartments and townhomes around the country every few weeks. Some of these locations were in the same neighborhoods where Review readers live.

For every customer the sex trafficking organization sent to the women, the organization made a $50 profit. The women also paid the organization $40 each time they were transported to a new location and $20 a day for housing expenses. They also paid for their own food and hotel fees.

The apartments and townhomes the women lived in were furnished with little more than mattresses on the floor and nightstands to store unused condoms and personal lubricant. Hundreds of used condoms were discovered filling a trash can at one townhouse.

Throughout the ordeal, being raped, beaten and robbed by customers was commonplace for the women.

“We have all heard, and seen, that sex trafficking is prevalent in the metropolitan area. It has been too long overlooked,” said Washington County Attorney Pete Orput in a July 31 statement, providing the chilling details above, which were revealed during a multi-year investigation into the sex trafficking organization. 

Orput’s statement also included the news that the last of four sex trafficking group leaders had pleaded guilty July 30 in Washington County District Court to charges of racketeering and sex trafficking.

Court documents related to the case against the four said modern technology is making it harder stop those responsible for sex trafficking.

“Human trafficking of international victims is a growing trend in the United States,” the documents said. “With the emergence of online platforms such as Backpage.com, those responsible for the trafficking are shielded by investigative barriers contained in cyberspace.”

 

Breaking open the sex trade

In 2016, while in the process of shutting down prostitution operations at Peony Massage in Blaine and at Terra Point Apartments in St. Paul, police met Dongzhou Jiang, who was later to be charged as one of the four leaders of the prostitution organization.

In February of 2017, the Minneapolis Police Department found out that eight women had just arrived in the Twin Cities for the purpose of prostitution. Two of the women were discovered inside an apartment in St. Louis Park, which was fitted with a Wi-Fi security camera for the prostitution organizers to monitor the women.

Based on advertisements on Backpage.com, police found another woman at the Best Western, 970 Helena Ave. N, in Oakdale. Police surveillance revealed several men entering the woman’s hotel room and leaving about 15 minutes later.

“The goal of the [police surveillance] operation was to verify that commercial sex acts were occurring and to identify a potential trafficker associated with the exploitation of the female,” court documents said.

Police stopped one of the men as he was driving away from the hotel, and he allegedly admitted to paying a woman for sex in the hotel. However, after the man was interviewed, the woman left the hotel, unseen by police.

The next day Backpage.com advertisements pointed police to the Emerald Inn, located at 2025 County Road D, in Maplewood. This time police asked hotel management to evict the woman, who happened to be the same individual who was at Best Western the day before. 

After being evicted, she was picked up by someone driving a vehicle with California license plates and was dropped off at Live Inn Suites, 285 Century Ave. N., in Maplewood, where police found her. She was brought to a shelter and connected to other services.

Police also caught up with the driver of the vehicle, who ended up being Jiang. He was arrested in Woodbury and admitted he picked the woman up from the airport for the purposes of prostitution.

 

A concerned resident stumbles in

At the same time the undercover operation was happening in Oakdale, another undercover operation based on Backpage.com advertisements occurred at a townhome at 7815 Hemmingway Ave. in Cottage Grove.

Surveillance of the property was underway when a resident contacted police about her suspicion that sex trafficking was occurring in the house. She had gone to visit an old friend who she thought still lived at the address when she was ushered inside by someone she thought might be her friend’s caretaker, but when the “caretaker” brought her to sit on a bed, she suspected the woman was a prostitute and left.

The next day officers from Cottage Grove, Woodbury and Oakdale entered the building and discovered three women, including the woman police recovered at the Live Inn Suites in Maplewood, who had been transferred to a shelter earlier that same day.

Police later discovered similar advertisements in California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. 

Six Chinese women who had been trafficked were recovered from the organization. 

 

Organizers paying the penalty

Jiang will be sentenced Aug. 13. He was convicted of racketeering and aiding and abetting in sex trafficking after pleading guilty to both charges. He faces up to 35 years in prison, a $1 million fine, or both.

Information he provided, as well as information discovered in his home, vehicle and phone, led police to the three other leaders.

Police determined that Jiang was the local operational control, while Hong Jing and Sophia Wang Navas were the operational leaders of the overall organization. 

According to court documents, police believed that the three of them, along with Jing’s daughter, Fangyao Wu, make up the country-wide operational control center for coordinating sex trafficking, and court documents reveal that there are other co-conspirators both known and unknown who also allegedly participated in this criminal organization.

Wu was sentenced Nov. 13, 2017, after pleading guilty to racketeering. She was given 20 years probation.

Jing was sentenced Feb 9 after pleading guilty to racketeering and aiding and abetting in sex trafficking. She is serving eight and a half years in prison.

Navas entered guilty pleas on July 30 to racketeering and sex trafficking. She will be sentenced Oct. 23 and faces up to 12.5 years in prison.

Said Orput, “These convictions reflect the commitment to go after sex traffickers aggressively.”

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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